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The Journal News

September 28, 2008




Stockard Channing returns to Broadway


Peter D. Kramer


Stockard Channing has been in stage musicals and movies. She knows the difference.


But she’s concerned that people who come to see her latest musical – the first Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hart’s musical “Pal Joey” in 32 years, at the Roundabout’s Studio 54 theater this fall – will be coming to see the 1957 movie that starred Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth.


“It’s so different,” says Channing. “I watched it a couple of weeks ago and I thought ‘My goodness! People are going to expect a whole other thing, a whole other story.'”


The musical, which first opened on Christmas Day 1940 and ran for 374 performances, was based on John O’Hara’s stories about a rakish 1930s Chicago nightclub singer, Joey Evans, who claimed to be everyone’s pal. He meets a woman of means who agrees to keep him in a style to which he could easily become accustomed.


The original production starred Gene Kelly as Joey and Vivienne Segal as Vera Simpson. At Studio 54, it’ll be Christian Hoff (“Jersey Boys”) and Channing.


The 1957 movie was a Sinatra vehicle set in San Francisco, but it was less dark than its original material.


“Frank Sinatra is fabulous, as are the women, but they gotta have that so-called ‘happy ending,'” says Channing. “Rita is a widow, there’s no adultery and some intimations of some sex, but not with Kim. It was the mid-’50s.”


The Roundabout revival isn’t the movie, but it also isn’t the original play. Richard Greenberg (“Take Me Out”) has written a new adaptation of the story.


“Vera is still Vera,” Channing says. “She’s a woman of considerable means.”


There’s little to like about this cougar or the man she keeps.


“Joey’s the antihero,” Channing says. “I can’t imagine what it was like when it first hit the stage. That’s what made it groundbreaking, and the whole loucheness, low-life aspect of it was embraced more than people were used to. Not to mention a married woman keeping this guy as a paramour in a musical, no less.”


Vera sings five songs, not the least of which is “Bewitched, Bothered, Bewildered,” a Rodgers & Hart classic.


People who only know Channing from her eight-year run as first lady Abbey Bartlet in “The West Wing” may not know that she made her Broadway debut in a musical version of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” in 1971.


“I was in the chorus and an understudy and I ended up taking over one of the leads in New York and on the road. That’s what brought me to Los Angeles and really started everything rolling,” she says.

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